Author Jeanette Winterson has called on society and the government to support our beleaguered public library system in an impassioned speech.
The Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit writer suggested that the hundreds of millions of pounds of profit corporations like Google, Starbucks and Amazon were last week accused of diverting from Britain be used to support this country’s libraries.
Speaking at the British Library last night, she said: “The money is there. Libraries cost about a billion a year to run right now. Make it £2 billion and charge Google, Amazon and Starbucks all that tax on their profits here.”
She continued: “Or if they want to go on paying fancy lawyers to legally avoid their moral duties, then perhaps those companies could do an Andrew Carnegie and build us new kinds of libraries for a new kind of future in a fairer and better world.”
Winterson was delivering the first of an annual Reading Agency Lecture, a new initiative to provide a platform for leading writers and thinkers to share ideas and to celebrate the tenth anniversary of The Reading Agency charity.
The award-winning author said: “We might save ourselves a lot of agony if we took libraries out of local council leisure budgets and put them into the national education budget – allocating a basic spending allowance for local authorities that they could not use for anything else.”
She said: “Libraries are not leisure in the way that a sports centre is leisure. Libraries began with the highest purpose in mind- to educate through the agency of a book.”
Fellow authors David Nicholls, Julian Barnes, Sarah Waters and Joanna Trollope watched as Winterson delivered her lecture.
She called on society to value libraries and the life of the mind: “Don’t hand kids over to computer games and wall to wall TV – bring them to books early and see what happens. Give them a library as good as anything Carnegie wanted, and see what happens. It is the best social experiment we could make.”
Over 10 per cent of British libraries are currently under threat – that’s up to 500 out of a total 4,500. Last week Newcastle council proposed closure of ten of its 18 public libraries, citing the need to fill a budget hole of £90 million over the next three years.
Winterson is the latest to add her voice to the campaign to save Britain’s libraries- an issue that has been championed vocally by fellow authors Philip Pullman, Anne Fine and Julia Donaldson.